… enhancing community through forms of knowledge production

In the case of Lebanon, which was hit by a catastrophic explosion in August 2020 when a large quantity of ammonium nitrate stored in the port of Beirut in the Lebanese capital exploded causing maximum destruction, we engage in research through the gesture of hosting our interlocutors in Vienna and opening a platform for exchange and reflection exclusively in the Viennese context. With this gesture, we aim to soften the difficult conditions in Lebanon and, first and foremost, to allow a brief period of reflection (a way of conviviality) in a different context.

Our interest in the case of Lebanon is the forms of knowledge that developed the possibilities for building a community and a life together. Lebanon bears certain similarities with the former Yugoslav space, and specifically with the space of multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina (see AKBILD, n.d.), which due to past war conflicts and brutality has become a sectarian space, a space of division.

A key source for theoretical framing is provided by our cooperation partner Prof. Sari Hanafi, who is also part of the above-mentioned convivialist movement that started in France with Alain Caillé. In 2016, together with Rigas Arvanitis, Hanafi published Knowledge Production in the Arab World: The Impossible Promise which deals with the Arab region’s fragmented scientific institutions against the background of the globalization of research. The book questions both the relevance of the research and whom it serves, as well as the methodological flaws behind academic rankings and the meaning and application of key concepts such as knowledge society/economy. As they point out, there is a need to build a “scientific community” in the region (2016, 5). “We make a claim not only about the necessity of research, but of research that has neither direct economic objectives nor ‘strategic’ objectives. A research that is curiosity-driven is a major ingredient for the future” (13).

Hanafi’s and Arvanitis’ work (2016) can be directly connected to all of our research objectives, specifically regarding the development of new formats of arts- and theory-based research for convivial epistemologies. We connect their call for a methodological revision with the practice of a Beirut art space called Arab Image Foundation (AIF, n.d.). The AIF emphasizes specifically images as a source for building new communities. The AIF is an independent association founded in 1997 in the context of Lebanon after the end of the civil war as a means to counter what happened to culture during the war. As Marc Mouarkech (2019), director of the AIF, has stated, “Everything that came after, how people dealt with what had happened, the collective memory, the amnesia. We live in a country that is very, very complex.” Ever since its beginning, the AIF “has been championing photographic material as a means to preserve the history of the Arab region [and] has worked to create a dialogue between the archive and contemporary art practices” (Mouarkech 2019).

The AIF’s enormous archive, its collection of over 500,000 photographic objects and documents dating back to the 1860s, is accessible online, which will allow us to even work with their material from a distance. The AIF sees the platform as a “very important tool to start building a real community around the foundation” (Mouarkech quoted in Soussi 2019).